Some Songs Considered #051: I Took A Pill in Ibiza, and the Bummer Jams Club
Welcome to Some Songs Considered, a column that recognizes they can’t all be zingers and truly appreciates the ones that are.
The U.S. Hot 100 happens to be experiencing a bit of a stagnant period, which is to say songs are really glued to this thing lately. Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself”# just joined Maroon 5’s “Sugar”# and Nicki Minaj’s “Starships”# as the songs with the longest life in the Top 10 (that debuted there) in the history of Billboard; Rihanna’s “Work”# is at #1 for the eighth week straight.
The SeeB remix of Mike Posner’s “I Took A Pill In Ibiza” – currently climbing the Billboard charts this week, reaching new heights at #8 on the Hot 100 – has a chance to crack the Top 5 and really stay there, maybe even long enough for a shot at the Song of the Summer™ Belt.
It’s also eligible for membership in what I’m dubbing The Bummer Jams Club:
The key tenant of the Bummer Jam is juxtaposition: lyrically, the song has to be somewhere on the spectrum from melancholy to dismal, while musically, it remains upbeat and radio-friendly. A Bummer Jam should appear inexplicably on beach weekend playlists and the Seratos of Bar Mitzvah DJs, an evergreen subject of man-splainings worldwide as its lyrics pages enjoy inordinate web traffic. A true Bummer Jam has been feverishly argued over on that proto-Rap Genius analysis hub songmeanings.com in a manner that’s somehow just as sad to read as the lyrics themselves.
Of course, misappropriation by political campaigns earns the song extra Bummer Jams points…
If you haven’t heard the song (or, like the Ibizan tourism board, you haven’t really listened yet), “I Took A Pill In Ibiza” is about its singer drifting aimlessly through middling pseudo-fame as would-be relationships crumble, friends are nowhere to be found, and the looming concern of whether or not he’s “blown his shot” is ever-present.
Beginning with an anecdote about being peer-pressured into drug use by a recently-retired EDM impresario and ending with a confessional plea to young and impatient musicians, the song’s lyrics are extremely vivid, lending it much higher stakes than the overall conceit would seem to warrant.
And, an achievement in and of itself, it actually makes you feel bad for the “Drug Dealer Girl” guy:
An attempt to exude cleverness, to say “fuck you” to a label, to placate the wishes of two Norwegian DJs with a taste for irony – Bummer Jams can be wrought from any number of artistic motivations.
The bones of “I Took A Pill In Ibiza” are the bones of a bummer song, which is clearly what Posner was going for with the original (released a year ago to little fanfare and featuring a minimalist soundscape of acoustic guitar and negative space), but SeeB had other plans for the tune. Now it’s a dance song, buoyant and energetic, billowing up the charts like pressurized Co2 freshly ejected from a space-age cannon after the biggest drop of the night. You can sense Posner’s ambivalence about the fact that his once-quiet song has become a dance anthem – in his live shows he’s recently taken to performing a hybrid of his low-key original and the bombastic remix, in acquiescence to the fact that “people paid money and want to hear that version of the song” – but the fact is, it’s going to do much more good that way.
Bummer Jams’ most important trait is their ability to sneak some of the nasty, difficult, uncomfortable stuff in life, the stuff with which most of us don’t go out of our way to reckon, into our consciousness via a musical Trojan horse. Stuff like failed marriages#, and the often nightmarish lives of sex workers#, but also quotidian stuff like wishing our friends hadn’t moved away, and worrying about opening up to people, and wondering if we’ve blown our shot. Once we’re confronted with the subject matter, the cognitive dissonance of the listening experience becomes a fast-acting brain adhesive.
We tend to really remember these songs long after their peak of relevancy, which is important when you live in a culture that encourages everyday denial of the uncomfortable truths and malicious forces that surround us as a means of getting by…
Bummer Jams are for people who don’t like sad songs, but need to hear them anyway; even if they’re at a Bar Mitzvah, or a barbecue, or a Balearic island known for its electronic music scene.
Given its rise in the charts and the fact that summer is nearly upon us, “I Took A Pill In Ibiza” may just kick-start a true second act for Posner, whose six-years-in-the-making sophomore album comes out next month. For now, it’s at least earned induction in this club of songs that, to paraphrase Posner, don’t just get you high – they ask you to consider why.
Random Tracks from Random Nerds:
Kid Cudi – “All In” and “Frequency”
– Bryce Rudow (@brycetrudow)
After the Kobe Farewell Tour that was the Lakers’ 2015-2016 season, I couldn’t bring myself to stay up to watch Kobe Bryant’s final game Wednesday night. Consequently, it wasn’t until the next morning that I was able to bear witness to the goosebump-inducing, stuff-of-legends feat that was Mr. “Bean” Bryant – 37 years old, 20 seasons in, and far past his prime – willing and gritting his way to a 60-point finale in front of a sold out Staples Center crowd absolutely delighted to see their (anti) hero ride off into the sunset “not with a whimper but a bang.”#
As a Kid Cudi fan since “She Came Along” back in early 2009, I can only hope Mr. Mescudi has a few games like that still in him…
After 2013’s Indicud, 2014’s Satellite Fight, and whatever Speedin’ Bullet to Heaven was, Scott Mescudi has, like Kobe, become one of those favored veterans with an absolutely stellar early-career highlight reel but whose limitations have been exposed by the eroding sands of time. Cruel Summer’s underrated gem “Creepers” was a post-prime peak# for Cudder, but 2012 is getting farther and further behind us; and while a writing credit on The Life of Pablo is nice in theory, it’s still TLOP at the end of the day.
However, out of the mouths of babes, this month saw the release of two new Kid Cudi singles – “All In” and “Frequency” – that have
desperate diehard fans like yours truly inching ever so slightly closer to the edge of our seats.
The first two shots, while nothing crazy, went in. And at this point in Kid Cudi’s career, that’s something worth blogging about.
Kobe’s knees never stood a chance at another season, but it looks like Scott Mescudi’s prolonged his sunset ride a little bit longer…
Paperhaus – “Silent Speaking”
– Lindsay Hogan (@LindsayHogan88)
This week, DC was gifted with a new track: “Silent Speaking” from Paperhaus, one of our city’s most resilient bands. Paperhaus’ core talents – progressive compositions, poetic lyrics and intricate guitar – haven’t left, but unlike the rest of Paperhaus’ catalogue, the percussion has stepped into a new prominence, creating one of the band’s most gripping songs yet; all without abandoning their avant-garde bedrock.
If you happen to live in DC and would like to catch this live (and you should), Paperhaus will be blowing off the doors of the Black Cat this Monday in another of many impressively eclectic DC-centric shows this spring.
Mobley – “Solo”
– Noah Berlatsky (@nberlat)
Editor’s Note: Check out Noah’s piece on Random Nerds this week about Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Black Panther #1
Mobley’s infectious, smart indie pop sounds like it could just about be infectious, smart mainstream pop if he were a little less sardonic, and/or a little more personally glamorous, and/or (the big one) he just got a little lucky.
The song “Solo” off his new excellent EP Some Other Country could be read as a song about isolation post breakup, but the video treats it as a wry commentary on fame and dreams thereof – presenting mass success as shallow, gross, and undeniably appealing. The narrative has him passing by the same people over and over again, a kind of parody of pop song repetition while employing unashamed pop gimmicks, like that insistent whistle motif (shades of the Bangles.) The fact that, as a black man, he’s wandering through a mostly white world in his video path to fame surely isn’t an accident either.
“Things never did quite go your way,” is almost Steely-Dan worthy in its mix of mockery, self-pity, and world weary resignation — and of course part of the joke is that it’s set to a cheerful hook that goes running through your head indefinitely.
Mobley presents cynicism as effervescent virtuosity, or vice versa.
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